Psychopathy and Aesthetic Sensitivity

If artists hold out some hope of freeing the world from the deleterious effects of the presence of powerful psychopaths, especially the psychopaths in charge, are we sure that psychopaths aren’t among the artists?  Will it be possible for psychopathic artists, if they exist, to simply subvert the message of art and twist things around to keep the world utterly insane?

This is probably the final instalment in a series of blog posts I have done, examining the roles of artists and psychopaths in our world, suggesting that psychopaths are causing everybody else to act in psychopathic ways, artists included.  As a consequence of their disregard for the sanctity of life (and their inability to understand the value of life, except in monetary and material terms, only advantageous to themselves) and the now extreme means available to them to cause total extinction, they pose a threat to all of us that cannot be simply ignored or hidden from.  Left to their own devices, we are currently on a trajectory where they inevitably, eventually kill us all and everything alive.

Further posts have posited that artists have a crucial role to play in counteracting the actions of psychopaths and the non-psychopathic people that they have co-opted, through the simple expedient of making them so afraid, that they also act in violent ways.  We, as artists, are the creators.  What we create is what gets made.  We form and convey reality.  We are the creators of perceptions.  If we only create what the psychopathic manipulators want us to create, that’s where the trouble starts.  Further, if they convince us to destroy, rather than create, our powers to sustain and edify life are emasculated.

In previous posts, I’ve argued that non-psychopaths can be made to be perpetrators of violence and collaborators in enabling violence, just because they are frightened into it, ever since childhood.  I have also written about how artists can heal the effects of violence, if they choose to stop perpetuating the cycle of violence.  I pointed out how even innocuous sounding activities, carried out on behalf of organisations run by psychopaths for wholly maniacal purposes, can have the same effect as invisible violence, in terrorising us all into constantly doing as we’re told, to suit somebody else’s desires and needs and to suppress our own needs, desires and nature.

The psychopaths in charge ruthlessly use artists as tools, to do their manipulating for them.  We’ve been manipulated into it and told that it’s ok.  In light of the annihilation that the psychopaths in charge could quite easily and blithely unleash at any moment, it’s definitely not ok.  We’ve been duped.  It’s time we stopped playing along, hoping our contribution won’t make things very much worse.  Our art, if used to promote a destructive, life-averse agenda, definitely does make things very much worse.  We have a responsibility not to cause our own downfall, by complicity and complacency.

In short, I believe that working to reduce the impact of psychopaths is now something we don’t have the luxury of deferring, any longer.  Further, artists have the tools and skills to make emotionally affective messages that have the potential to alert the majority to the threat, without further terrorising them.  In fact, artists can act as Shaman, in that they can weave artistic magic to soothe the soul, provide truthful clarity and help a population of terrified, fearful people face down the lunatics that have lead the whole world to the brink of self-destructive disaster.

However, the whole project to save the world through art would fail, if psychopaths were simply able to pose as authentic artists and subvert the messages of artists that seek a less violent, more compassionate world, free from the manipulation, destruction and other undesirable effects of the agendas of the psychopaths in charge.  The psychopaths always have and will continue to try to use artists to convey their own twisted agenda, but artists don’t have to work for them.  Aware artists can simply not produce the messages they are manipulated into producing, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  What will the psychopaths do, if their sheep dogs (artists) refuse to herd the sheeple, on command?

The danger is if the psychopaths can do the work of artists themselves, so that they push their own misinformation, distortions and lies, without needing to use the artists they have traditionally used to do their dirty work.  Sometimes artists have promoted the psychopathic agenda, without even being aware they are doing so, or being conscious of the consequences of what they are doing on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  It has to be recognised that not all artists are aware and awake either, such is the universality of the violence used from cradle to grave to hypnotise and terrorise all of us into doing what they wish us to do.

So, can the psychopaths become artists and take control of propagating their own propaganda?  Is a project to convince artists to work for higher, nobler ideals, instead of serving the pathocracy, doomed to failure and subversion?  Can artists really change the world and prevent the actions of the psychopaths in charge from destroying first our quality of life and subsequently life itself?

There are reasons to believe that psychopaths are lacking in the aesthetic sensitivity necessary to do so.  I came across this very interesting paper, which is worth a read:

The paper argues that psychopaths are incapable of producing art that will be emotionally affective and potent enough to fool anybody.  If their remaining choice, to get the rest of the world to go along with their plans and ideas, is to bypass artists that refuse to propagate their twisted world view, then they are not going to succeed in their psychological information wars on their own.  They can only do it by manipulating artists into doing so on their behalf and artists have the power, as a group, to simply not do so.  Psychopaths that attempt to produce art are instantly recognisable as imposters, when they try to make anything that has more than superficial, decorative, utilitarian value.  This is a hopeful sign. 

The psychopathic agenda can be stopped simply by artists refusing to deliver its messages.  Psychopaths that run the world cannot deliver their insane messages on their own behalf.  They lack the aesthetic sensibility necessary to do so convincingly. 

Better than that, artists can use their skills and talents to wake the world up from the hypnotic pseudo-reality that has been woven for centuries, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  A different, better reality is possible and artists can describe it.

How can we be so sure that psychopaths can’t become manipulative artists?

First, let’s make some observations about a psychopath’s relationship to art and aesthetics. 

One thing we know is that psychopaths are, where fashion and trends are concerned, followers of the crowd.  They tend to be trend band-waggoners, rather than trend-setters.  Why?  The reason is that leading a trend would require an aesthetic sensibility which they don’t possess.  They might create fashion trends to make profit, but they don’t care which fashion it is.  It’s their preferred strategy to observe what is already making waves and to co-opt that trend as their own.

A corollary of this trend following is that psychopaths are typified by not knowing what they really like, where art and music are concerned.  Most emotionally affective experiences leave them cold and unaffected.  They exhibit no grand, passionate, emotional reaction to art.  They are unmoved by it, except to the extent that it can make them richer, more attractive or more powerful.  There is no difference to them between a piece of computer-generated pop music and an exquisitely sad piece of Tchaikovsky.  If they like literature, art or theatre at all, it is usually to be seen to be hip, relevant or wealthy, rather than for the qualities of the art itself.

The psychopath’s relationship to art can be summarised in a very simple phrase.  They tend to have bad taste.

However, the meaner, crueller, more merciless and competitive we become as a society, in line with the comfort zones of the psychopaths in charge, the more critical and judgemental we become of art and artists.  We also begin to treat art and artists as worthless and disposable.  This is simply a reflection that ripples throughout society, driven by the fear of stepping out of line, of the psychopaths in charge and their relationship to art and artists.  Because they believe in “dog-eat-dog” as an article of faith and are unmoved by art and artists, they intimidate the rest of us, subtly, into behaving as they do.

Psychopaths tend to have a very shallow understanding of art and lack any awareness of nuance, subtlety and ambiguity.  It doesn’t interest them.  This is why satire, particularly political satire, is such a powerful weapon against them.  They don’t get the joke, while the rest of us almost always do.  Comedians and satirists that use humour to deflate the power and plans of the psychopaths in charge are Shamanic, too.  They heal us through laughter.  Of course, when a psychopath fails to get the joke, they still laugh when other people do, mimicking, but not experiencing their joy, delight and mirth.  It may well be that he who laughs last might be a bit of a psychopath, in reality.

Because they, themselves, are unmoved by art and have a fundamentally narcissistic world-view, psychopaths have no idea why other people are emotionally moved by art.  To them, it is both mysterious and silly.  They conclude that expressing emotions in response to art is a weakness.  It makes them intensely uncomfortable to be in the presence of people who are all feeling something, in response to a work of art, which they are unable to feel.

Bookishness is also rarely a characteristic of the psychopath.  They are, generally speaking, not particularly well read, except when feigning simulated bookishness for some personal advantage peripheral to the literature itself.  When psychopaths do pretend to be bookish, they don’t fully comprehend the veiled and hidden meanings suggested in what they read.  They don’t read in any great depth.  They are unable to read between the lines or place themselves into the shoes of a story’s protagonist, through the power of their imagination.  If they can, they don’t feel what the protagonist feels, in response to the situations described.

As a group, psychopaths are not particularly humanist in their outlook.  Why would they be, if they see other humans as prey – disposable and unimportant?  In the psychopathic world view, all other humans are interchangeable units, whereas they alone are special and unique.  There is a peculiar contradiction in the value they place on themselves, versus the value they place on other people’s lives.  To each psychopath, somehow they were miraculously granted the sole monopoly on fabulousness and every other human was put on earth to serve their purposes.  This blatant contradiction does not trouble the psychopath in the least.

If a psychopath attempts to make art at all, it usually fails to connect with or reach other people, being sterile, banal and superficial in execution.  They will usually excel at copying, but struggle coming up with anything truly original.  As artists, they can reproduce artwork, but not create it from nothing at all.

Because their only interest in art is what it can do for them, they are not particularly concerned with the quality of their artistic output and have little interest in striving to improve.  After all, they think they’re brilliant already.  Why waste time and sweat on trying to make their art better, when they can flog their sub-standard work off to undiscriminating and unsuspecting buyers just the same.

Their written and spoken language and their communications are not particularly eloquent or stylish.  For the same reason they don’t strive to hone their other artistic skills, they will spend little time extending their vocabulary or learning how to turn a phrase in just the right way.  Most of their language use will be characterised by malapropisms, colloquialisms, words used incorrectly (carelessly choosing a word that has the opposite to the intended meaning, for example) and will be grammatically suspect, with little respect for correct punctuation.

To quote from the paper, “Without Taste”, cited above:

“Psychopaths want money, power, status, excitement and sex, but helping others, changing the world, saving their souls, preserving beautiful objects, solving scientific problems, etc. are of little concern to them; indeed, they may not even be intelligible to them as projects. Psychopaths have little understanding that others care about anything else than they, themselves, care about.”

If you don’t understand what life is, if you have an arid internal life and you have no interest in or ability to understand why life might be valued by other people, you tend not to be very protective of it.  In fact, you might be quite cavalier about death, even on a large scale.

As mentioned earlier, psychopaths lack the ability to imaginatively project themselves into a fictional world.  When they do, they learn nothing from the arc of the characters that most people would identify with.  Morality tales are lost on them.  Allegorical tales fail to hit their mark.

Comparing aesthetics and morals, as the paper I have cited does, the author concludes:

“Aesthetic engagement can actually educate and improve the same abilities we need in order to make sound moral decisions”

In other words, those of us that have an ability to become aesthetically engaged with art actually possess the means to make sound moral judgements.  Aesthetic sensitivity is an advantage, when it comes to learning about and making sound moral decisions.

There is an exception, for the psychopath, of course.  The paper states:

“When it comes to non-narrative, non-representational art, it is hard to see that empathy is necessary for [it’s] appreciation.”

Psychopaths have more ability to appreciate and create non-narrative, non-representational art, than they have for narrative, representational forms.  Is it any wonder that modern art, reflecting the tastes and preferences of the psychopaths in charge, has moved distinctly away from narrative forms of art and has become largely abstract, non-representational and non-narrative?  It’s the only art that requires little empathy to understand.  That’s not to condemn modern art as valueless or only for psychopaths, but it does provide a rationale for the radical shift so far away from narrative, representational forms.

That’s not to say psychopaths have no imagination.  They often have a vivid imagination, but are unmoved emotionally by what they imagine.  They make no sensory connection to what they imagine and to how they feel, in response to what they have imagined.  Fearful things can be imagined, but they cannot feel fear in response to the imagining.

Their lack of empathy, however, is not a sufficient explanation for their relationship to art.  Psychopaths have “a more pervasive deficit: an inability to take an interest in anything that does not serve, directly or indirectly, to gratify some desire.”

Psychopaths lack an ability to appreciate an artwork from any aspect other than how it pertains to them.  They can’t see an object “objectively”, or from other perspectives and have no ability to aesthetically distance themselves from the work and its meaning to only themselves.  They can’t sense what a piece of art might mean to others, or what its purpose might be, if they cannot find a way in which the art will be advantageous to them.  In short, they lack the ability to establish aesthetic distance from the work, in the words of the paper cited.

“Aesthetic distance does not require not caring about the object at all (for psychopaths would certainly be capable of that), but caring that extends beyond one’s immediate concerns.”

“Psychopaths have no real grasp of value, other than material or monetary value.”

Why does an inability to establish aesthetic distance and a lack of aesthetic sensibility matter?  It matters because aesthetic sense is closely correlated to moral and ethical values.  The paper says:

“Both moral and aesthetic value requires appropriate distance – an ability to step back from one’s own point of view and appreciate the world around us, without concern for whether we can benefit from it.”

To paraphrase, a psychopath lacking in aesthetic sensibility and the ability to create aesthetic distance between themselves and a work of art, by corollary, is unable to appreciate the world around us.  Without that appreciation, they do not value the world around us and will not feel compelled to prevent its destruction.  In fact, if they see temporary advantage in doing so, they will think nothing of destroying the world around them.  Having invented the means for rapid and comprehensive destruction of the world around them (nuclear weapons, global warming, environmental pollution, strip mining, fracking, water source contamination, tainting of the food supply), having an inability to appreciate the world around us is a very dangerous trait.  They could blow up the world and kill all life on it without feeling a pang of regret.  Therefore, they make very poor stewards of the planet, yet are in charge of it.

To summarise, psychopaths are dangerous to us all due to their lack of aesthetic sensitivity.  To take one more quotation from the paper I cited above:

“The abilities to participate fully in both moral life and in art are rooted in the same basic capacity, a capacity that psychopaths lack – to take an interest in what is not one’s own.”

So it’s pretty clear that psychopaths make very poor artists and very poor stewards of the planet, for the same reason.  They’re not interested in it, because it isn’t theirs. 

Unfortunately, this also necessarily implies that the reality we have created, its messages, our culture and the zeitgeist was all created by artists, not psychopaths, but at the behest of the psychopaths in charge.  I include inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and technologists under the rubric of artists.  We took their money to convey the manipulative ideas they wanted us to convey for them.  We caved in on our principles and ethics.  We did what we were told.  Many of us were too frightened to do otherwise, due to the level of subtle and not-so-subtle violence we feared would be levelled against us, if we refused (for example, not being able to pay the mortgage or rent). 

The world’s mainstream and social media is as unreliable a source of truth today as it is for one reason alone.  Artists corrupted it, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  We collaborated, delivered and enabled their destructive, threatening agenda.  When wars are sold to the population, it is artists that are doing the selling (journalists, reporters, television producers, graphic artists, movie makers).  That’s an unpalatable truth that, as artists, we have to face.  If the world has been manipulated to the point of imminent extinction, through global warming, nuclear war or environmental destruction, we participated in getting us all to that point.  We did all the heavy lifting.

We made this mess.  The psychopaths in charge didn’t have the skills to pull it off.

In a world where the psychopaths are in charge, is it any wonder, though, that art is not highly valued and neither are artists.  Arts funding is given grudgingly and sparingly, if it is given at all.  Artists are poorly paid and their existence precarious.  Most of our world leaders cannot see the intrinsic value in art or its value to others.  They are utterly incapable of believing in the value of something (anything) that brings them no personal gain.  That’s why the money has not flowed to us as a group, except in as much as we were prepared to deliver psychopathic images and messages to further the goals of the psychopaths in charge.

To take just one positive away from this sorry analysis, it’s probable that no good artist is a psychopath.  If an artist is able to reach people, emotionally, with their work, at a deep level, there is a good chance that they lack psychopathy.

It’s high time we did some good, with our artistic talents.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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3 Responses to Psychopathy and Aesthetic Sensitivity

  1. dale bordelon says:

    Maybe psychopathy is an evolutionary design that needs help finding its place on the planet and It serves no purpose to blame them for the roles they play. There is power in the realization that our complicity gives credibility to the. Kings who have no clothes! Recently a small reddish crystal of dense carbon molecules(a diamond), sold for appx. $86 million dollars, enough money to purchase or produce over one billion loaves of bread. The person responsible for creating that illusion was brilliant and creative and I like most folks have bought in lock stock and barrel. Until recently I knew intellectually that there was an emptiness in the game I competed in, where I traded in my currency of intimacy and connection(one form of wealth) for the acquisition of money, power, status, approval and stuff(an illusory form of wealth), where an ounce of carbon has equal value to a billion loaves of bread. Rather than blaming the psychopath whose emotional system is unable to appreciate intimacy, art and connection, I am simply opting out of those games. I do not intend to fight anything or anyone(that’s the psychopath’s motive operandi) as, resistance breeds persistence. I am learning to say, thanks but no thanks, I think I’ll keep what I already have.

    When I’m not in this moment, I’m living in a virtual reality?

    • Your approach is a valid approach, so long as you are prepared to permit whatever happens on a global scale affecting you, without doing anything to prevent it. Evasion only works, as a tactic, if there is somewhere left that is still safe. Incidentally, I would default to evasion too, if I knew that would work. The tactic used to be the most effective one.

  2. dale bordelon says:

    I agree with your statement. There were people trying to eliminate Hitler well before the war was over. Individuals used by psychopaths who are only acting like psychopaths are the real targets of such tactics as they will have some pains of conscious as time goes along and a true sense of remorse. Those who engage in passive non conformity must do so knowing they may suffer severe consequences. Everyone will not have the stomach for that but I guess it is the antithesis of a suicide bomber. I don’t see this successfully happening until an elevated level of consciousness has reached a tipping point across humanity.

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